Future Engineers at their B.E.S.T.

In 2015 Palm Beach State College was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation
InnovATE grant to create a pipeline of secondary students to enter PBSC’s Engineering Technology (ET) A.S. program, offer pathways to continue an ET education, and join local industries in high skill, high demand jobs. As part of the grant’s activities, in June 2016 PBSC offered the first year of the B.E.S.T. (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology) Summer Academy, a free three-week engineering exploration program that was held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day for three weeks. Recruitment efforts to promote the program and students enrolled represented a joint effort between teachers and district employees, and included visits and presentations at local high schools about science, physics, engineering and math classes. Students came from 18 high schools from across Martin, Palm Beach and Broward counties, and were exposed to the diversity of engineering career opportunities.

Content for the camp was generally taught by Professor Oleg Andric who designed the

curriculum, Professor Lilian Jordan, Professor Becky Mercer and Professor Iran Rosenthal. The program kicked off with an innovative team building activity: a campus-wide scavenger hunt! Students were given clues to 14 stations across campus, and tasked with completing physical and mental challenges to assemble a puzzle that revealed a final problem. They even met Palmer the Panther, PBSC’s mascot, along the way!

This novel summer program included: interacting with engineers to learn about their careers,

working on hands-on projects, and touring industry sites to see engineering in action! Local companies brought their engineers to campus to give presentations, and share personal stories and advice on how to succeed in engineering. Tours included visit to local aerospace, solar and utility power companies where students saw high-tech tools and robotics, solar panels, and jet turbines. Students were also provided lunch for the entire three weeks.

B.E.S.T. students formed a diverse group with 27.5% female participation, 53% Title 1 high

schools, and 71% ethnic minority students. According to a 2012 article by Mark Crawford entitled, “Engineering Still Needs More Women,” only 14% of engineers are female, up from 5.8% in the 1980s. Further, only 5% and 6.2% of engineers are African American and Latinos, respectively (Koebler 2011). Participants learned about internships, coursework required for certain fields, and impressive entry level salaries. Hands-on projects ranged from circuits and solar-powered race cars to 3D printing and scanning, programming and bioengineering. Students worked in teams and learned to problem solve together. Along the way, they earned points and competed for the coveted title of “Best BESTer”!

The students enjoyed the experience and would like to return as volunteers next year. As one

participant put it, “I have a better understanding of engineering and have more interest in it than before BEST. It has been a fun experience that I'll never forget.” Comments like these prove a lasting impression was made and students are inspired to continue towards an engineering degree and career. Students who complete the BEST Summer Academy are now eligible for STEM scholarships at PBSC, and also participation in science fairs, and enrollment at PBSC. The InnovATE grant is focused on exposing young, diverse students to engineering, so they learn about the prospects of tomorrow’s technology and careers, and be prepared for the high job demand in this exciting field!

In addition to the robotics camp at PBSC, camps modeled after the FLATE program were also held at St. Petersburg College, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition at Pensacola and at Ocala, Frank H. Peterson Academies in Jacksonville and at North Florida Community College which was highlighted in last month’s FLATE Focus. For more information on the Robotics Camps and the NSF innovate project at PBSC contact Ana Szogi, InnovATE Grant Coordinator at szogia@palmbeachstate.edu/561.207.5408. For information on FLATE’s STEM and robotics camps hosted every summer head on over to our Camps page http://fl-ate.org/programs/summer-camps, and/or refer to our Robotics Camp Survival Guide. Also be sure to read the previous story in this edition of the FLATE Focus that highlights the impact of robotics camps, and how the mission and goal of the camps extend beyond a summer activity, and serve as a catalyst in igniting students’ passion for STEM and robotics.

This article was written by:

Ana Szogi
NSF - InnovATE Grant Coordinator
Palm Beach State College

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